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Charter school could lose license

TAMPA — A charter school founded to serve homeless and at-risk students in Hillsborough County could soon lose its license to operate as a public school.

In an April 17 letter, superintendent MaryEllen Elia told Metropolitan Ministries Academy she was recommending the School Board terminate its charter due to subpar academic performance. Last year the school's grade slipped from C to F, based on student performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

But Elia told school officials the district would wait for the results of this year's FCAT before taking further action.

"The expectation for our children can be no less than from an extremely wealthy home, where they can read by the time they are one (year old,)" Elia said. "We want to help, but we also have to be accountable for every one of the children. Given that, we are all waiting anxiously."

Under state law, districts must notify charter schools of a termination 90 days before school boards take formal action. Charter schools are public and receive state and local funds, but have more freedom than regular public schools to develop policies and programs.

On Wednesday, board members and school officials met for what the agenda described as an informal hearing on the "potential termination" of the school's charter.

Board members showered the school with praise for its work on behalf of homeless and needy children.

"You guys are phenomenal," said member Susan Valdes. "I know the good work and heart that Metropolitan Ministries has."

Opened in 1998, the school serves 78 children in kindergarten through fifth grade at the YMCA on East Palm Avenue. Of those, 21 students this year are homeless and live in the organization's shelter, while 58 students live in the surrounding neighborhood, said principal Thom Laux.

And with the economy struggling, officials are planning for an influx of additional homeless students.

Laux said the school has added tutors and a part-time guidance counselor, as well as extracurricular activities like music and ballet with the Patel Conservatory.

He has decided to step down this summer as principal for personal reasons, said Preston Farrior, the academy's board chairman. The organization is considering hiring a retired Hillsborough principal to lead the school.

Speaking after the meeting, Elia said she was hopeful those efforts would bear fruit.

"We need to see how the students do before any decisions are made," she said.

If the school continues to struggle, Elia said it is possible the district could forge a partnership or other arrangement.

"There are all sorts of options," she said. "I'm committed to the kids."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400.

Charter school could lose license 05/20/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 20, 2009 11:54pm]
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